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A state assumption of local school districts is no longer uncharted territory, but the decision by the Christie Administration to take control of the chronically underperforming Camden School District presents challenges that extend well beyond the classroom.

That the district has been in crisis for years is indisputable and the Governor’s action has won broad support, even among the local political establishment, in stark contrast to the fierce opposition which erupted when the state took control of the Jersey City district in 1989, Paterson in 1991, and Newark in1995.

The district’s woes, however, are inextricably tied to the deep-seated problems of the city itself, perennially listed as the nation’s most impoverished and most violent city.

By taking on the task of managing the district, the state will inevitably confront the challenges of poverty and crime, both of which weigh heavily on school age youngsters and the learning environment.

In 2012, for example, a homicide occurred in Camden every five and one-half days --- 67 murders in a city of 70,000. If the same ratio was applied to New York City, a city with 100 times the population, it would have racked up nearly 7,000 murders.

Virtually all other measures of community viability are equally grim --- 43 per cent of residents fall below the poverty level, the average household income is $22,000 and the unemployment rate is 19 per cent.

Separating these issues from attempts to improve educational quality will be a difficult task.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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While it is unfair to the nominees and an example of irresponsible governance, the political downside to the Democrats’ reported strategy of a protracted delay in considering the Governor’s recommendations for the State Supreme Court is negligible.

A decision to wait until after the November election to act gives Gov. Christie an opportunity to stamp his feet and rail about a do-nothing Democratic Legislature, but ultimately to no avail.

Senate President Steve Sweeney let some air out of the trial balloon when he said he hadn’t established a timetable for committee hearings for the nominees and that published reports suggesting an eight-month delay came from anonymous sources in his party caucus.  His lack of a definitive denial, however, lent credence to the speculation.

Disputes over gubernatorial nominees have never been galvanizing campaign issues.  The level of taxpayer and voter interest in who has been nominated for what position has never been particularly high --- a history not lost on Senate Democrats.

Tax and spending issues will again dominate the gubernatorial and legislative campaigns, abetted by differing platforms on job creation and economic growth, education funding, health care, transportation and progress --- or lack of progress --- in rebuilding shore regions devastated Hurricane Sandy last October.

Democratic legislative candidates have no reason to fear being the target of criticism for the strategy of delay, clearly understanding that voters are motivated by the worrisome kitchen table issues that directly impact their daily lives.  On the list of personal political priorities, Supreme Court nominees don’t
make the cut.

(For  more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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In his barnstorming town hall tour of the state, Gov. Chris Christie has relied upon a few time-tested themes which resonate with audiences, one of which is his insistence that a more equitable formula to provide state aid to local school districts can only be achieved by changing the make-up of the State Supreme Court.

The court, he says, has spent the last 40 years controlling education funding policy through a series of rulings ordering ever-increasing amounts of aid to at-risk districts --- commonly referred to as Abbott districts --- to the detriment of the rest.

It has legislated from the bench, he says, usurped the appropriations power of the Legislature and led to an aid formula so badly distorted that 30 districts --- five per cent of the total --- receive 60 per cent of the funds.

Despite evidence that the billions of additional dollars has failed to measurably improve student performance, the court, the Governor argues, has tied the hands of the Executive and Legislature by ruling the State Constitution required the additional spending to fulfill its mandate to provide “a through and efficient system of public education.”

Only by altering the composition of the court, Christie contends, can the two elected branches of government re-assert their prerogatives and regain control of the appropriations process.

By adopting such a position, the Governor has, in effect, transformed the Senate judicial confirmation process into a proxy vote, one in which support for a nominee is tantamount to support for the Governor’s funding reform agenda while opposition suggests a willingness to accept the status quo.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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While Gov. Chris Christie is holding news conferences and town hall sessions, accepting endorsements from local Democrats, officiating at shore reconstruction projects and dashing around the country picking up a few million dollars here and there, New Jersey Democrats are anonymously trashing their gubernatorial candidate and fueling speculation that the party’s get out the vote machinery will be running at only half speed this November.

The party’s dilemma was self-created by spending months in pursuit of a candidate other than Middlesex County State Sen. Barbara Buono and, when it failed, resigning itself to her defeat and concentrating on a strategy to save legislative and local candidates on the ballot with her.

While the comment from an anonymous Democrat that Buono became the presumptive nominee because “she was the only woman left at the bar at the 2 a.m. closing time” was monumentally stupid and morally repugnant, it was also revealing in that it reflected the feelings of a segment of the party who believe she is little more than the default candidate who will lose badly, endangering the party’s legislative majorities and control of courthouses and town halls.

Adding to their dismal outlook is the persistent speculation that the party’s strong leaders who could always be relied upon to turn out the troops on election day, will ease up and produce a fraction of their usual pluralities.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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So the White House press corps is in a snit because they weren’t allowed to follow President Obama around while he played a round of golf with, among others, Tiger Woods.            

Reporters with notebooks and pens, cameras and boom mikes, cell phones and Twitter accounts, were unable to capture for a waiting world every hook and slice or produce an image of the President blowing a three-foot birdie putt.  They might have missed a potential highlight reel of the President beaning another member of the foursome with an errant tee shot.            

Did reporters really believe the President would stand in the middle of a fairway and respond to questions about immigration reform, gun control, the sequester or any other policy of consequence?            

The objection to keeping reporters away involved, in the words of the head of the correspondents’ association, transparency --a word that has become the most overused and hackneyed political term in years.            

Government never has been and never will be transparent -- at least not to the extent the media demands.  Government simply isn’t built that way.            

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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By Virginia Waters, PhD
and Sean R. Evers, PhD
President: New Jersey Psychological Association       

Health care and the health care delivery system are in a period of transformation.  In this atmosphere of change the staid rules of medical education are also being re-examined.  Even in the atmosphere of change the medical establishment would have us believe that medical education cannot evolve since it was recommended by Abraham Flexner in 1910.  Two years of classroom education in the basic sciences followed by 2 years of clinical training still form the basis of medical education.  A closer examination of medical education shows us that it is not as necessary as it would first appear, and not as sacrosanct as organized medicine wants to portray.  The pattern of attending a pre-med program followed by taking the MCAT’s then 4 years of medical education and several years of residency is being challenged.

Brown University, one of the nation’s premiere medical schools, each year accepts a number of undergraduates who have studied humanities instead of traditional sciences.  A peer reviewed study comparing these students with the students following the more traditional path, found their performance in medical school was equivalent.   Another study found that humanities students made more sensitive doctors.  Mount Sinai has taken this approach one step further and exempted their humanities students from taking the MCAT’s.  Interestingly they found that these students were more than twice as likely to choose psychiatry as their specialty.

Not only have the requirements to enter medical school come into question some medical schools are modifying the length of medical training.  Several medical schools including Mercer Medical School, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine and Louisiana State  University School of Medicine to name a few, or are developing 3 year medical school programs to train primary care physicians.  This model is not new and was used successfully by the University of Virginia during World War II to train physicians for the military. 

Finally, the way medical schools teach their basic sciences is also evolving and violating the traditional medical model.  Stanford University has begun an online learning initiative using videos to teach basic sciences.  Mercer University is also using independent study, most of it online, to deliver lectures supplemented by students meeting in small groups to discuss the lecture material.  Ohio State University has taken this a step further and now offers 2 tracks for medical students to learn their basic skills.  One track follows the more traditional medical school model the other, an independent study path is done almost entirely online.

Medical training, although not acknowledged by the medical establishment, is evolving. 

(For more of how medical training is evolving, read their guest column here.)

( welcomes guest columns on issues of interest to New Jersey.)

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Dear Grandson,

2013 is a very significant year for you because, as a “millennium baby,” you will become officially a teenager at your next birthday. Born at not only the turn of a century, but also at the turn of a millennium, you are of a special generation that will determine the direction of our nation for many years to come. As each year brings you closer to what used to be called “the age of responsibility” you find yourself in a nation that is still sharply divided. Roughly one half of the country’s voters appear to be comfortable with a big, authoritarian central government controlling virtually every aspect of their lives. The other half of the voting population still believes that personal and economic freedom will provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Actually, when looking at the figures by population rather than number of voters, it would break out to be roughly 1/3 of the country leans liberal, 1/3 leans conservative and 1/3 are “low information voters” who don’t care. The last two presidential elections suggest a tilt toward liberalism, but it is not yet definitive if that is the country’s long-term direction.

I worry that we may have reached that point in our nation’s history where President Ronald Reagan’s worst fears are becoming a reality. He said, prophetically, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children what it was once like in the United States when men were free."

It will fall to you and your fellow “Millennium Babies” to determine what course your country will take.

(For more of Jim Morford's letter, read his guest column here.) 

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With each passing day, the air of desperation surrounding the New Jersey Democratic Party’s efforts to settle on a gubernatorial candidate grows thicker.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, himself a self-identified potential candidate, has travelled around the state meeting with Essex County Sen. Richard Codey --- the man he deposed as Senate President in a bitter contest two years ago --- and Congressman William Pascrell of Passaic County, to gauge the depth of their interest in challenging Gov. Chris Christie.

At the same time, State Chairman and Assemblyman John Wisnewski convened a conference call of the 21 county chairpersons only to get an earful of griping and grousing about a decision-making process that has gone on too long and was damaging and embarrassing the party.

With Middlesex County State Sen. Barbara Buono the only declared candidate, the restlessness of party leaders has begun to resemble a “Stop Buono” movement.

Open concern has been expressed by a few chairmen that Buono would run so poorly against Christie that the party was in danger of the unthinkable and unacceptable ---- losing down ballot legislative, county and municipal races.

Only by uniting behind a candidate stronger than Buono could such a disaster be averted, party leaders argue.

Their nervousness is well placed. Christie is in an extraordinarily strong position entering his re-election; his job approval ratings are high, a majority of people think the state is heading in the right direction, and he’s already raised more than $2 million for the campaign.

Party leaders worry that without a strong, well-organized and well-financed campaign, their local candidates could not withstand a Christie landslide.

A 10-point victory margin is manageable, but if the spread reaches up into the 15 or 20 point range, only the strong --- the very strong --- will survive.

Party leaders have been careful to avoid publicly disparaging Buono, but the spectacle of Sweeney openly searching for another candidate while county leaders plead for an accelerated decision-making process has only served to undermine her candidacy before it’s even gained significant traction.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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Anyone who believes the outcome of New Jersey’s next election for governor is a foregone conclusion has some compelling arguments to support that opinion. But the race is far from over.

To explore the possibilities, let’s start with the factors that make incumbent Republican Chris Christie a tough man to beat. Not only has Christie enjoyed high poll numbers since taking office in 2010, but in the aftermath of his performance in response to Hurricane Sandy, those numbers are higher than ever.

In recent polls, respondents gave Christie approval ratings of 73 percent (Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind) and 67 percent (Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press). In addition, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 67 percent of New Jersey voters feel Christie deserves re-election.

What bodes particularly well for the Republican governor is the support Democrats displayed in the polls.

In the Monmouth/Asbury Park Press poll, 57 percent of Democratic respondents approved of the job Christie is doing. The number was even higher in the FDU poll, with a 62 percent approval rating from Democrats. The Quinnipiac poll matched Christie against five potential Democratic contenders and found him leading all of them by wide margins. The closest contender, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, trailed Christie by 18 percentage points – and Booker has since opted not to enter the race. The FDU poll, taken after Booker bowed out, showed Christie with a 33 point lead over his nearest potential challenger, state Sen. Richard Codey.

Aside from the numbers, New Jersey Democrats have a history of infighting and factions that could once again hurt them at the polls if they fail to unite and rally behind a single candidate.

(For more of Rich Lee's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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There was more suspense in waiting for LeBron James to announce he intended to flee Cleveland and take his jump shot to Miami than was found in the decision of Newark Mayor Cory Booker to forego a run for governor next year and seek a U. S. Senate seat the following year. 

While reluctant to acknowledge it publicly, the wiser and more cynical heads in the political cognoscenti knew Booker would not risk a challenge to Gov. Chris Christie, fearing a loss would damage his brand and stunt his future.

Booker played the media like a fine violin and contributed to the hype at every opportunity. That’s what ambitious politicians who’ve become the center of media attention do.   The “will he or won’t he” speculation is political catnip for folks like Booker and, aside from irritating party contemporaries, it’s essentially harmless.

The risk was simply too great for Booker.  While he would have been the most formidable candidate in a party primary, he would still have had to raise significant cash not only to win but to demonstrate he had the ability to do so.  Then, within a few months, significantly more cash would have been necessary to mount an effective campaign against Christie. 

And, if Booker really lusted after a Senate seat, a loss to Christie would have meant that less than a year later, he would have had to raise even more millions to compete for the Senate. 

It was not an appealing scenario so he took a pass.  In doing so, he offered the opinion that Senate President Steve Sweeney of Gloucester County would be the strongest candidate.  Sweeney, who has expressed interest in running, graciously acknowledged the Mayor’s quasi-endorsement but allowed as how he would decide his future for himself. 

It’s not all about money, of course.  The political dynamic was not in Booker’s favor. 

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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President and Business Manager, IBEW Local 827

On Wednesday, December 5th I attended the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on the impact of Hurricane Sandy and how the state’s power, water and telecommunications utilities were progressing with restoration efforts.

Each power and telecom utility offered virtually the same message: Hurricane Sandy was devastating; recovery efforts are proceeding rapidly and successfully; yes, we have a problem communicating with our customers during a crisis, but we are working on it; and, send more federal and state funding so we can do our job even better. It sounded like a broken record.

Through the efforts of Senate President Steve Sweeney, I was afforded the opportunity to offer testimony on our union’s perspective of the recovery process in the telecom field. My comments did not mirror the feel good testimony of the utilities.

In my testimony I pointed out that this storm’s damage was greatly aggravated by the historic and continuing actions of power and communications utilities to ignore the importance of “building smart” and then properly maintaining the power and communications grid in this region.

I also testified that the cumulative result of this business philosophy was revealed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy by the long time periods involved in restoring service due to the lack of adequate manpower resulting from consistent downsizing, causing the need to import service techs from other states.

Our union, IBEW Local 827 which represents 5,000 Verizon technical professionals as well as units working for Comcast, AT&T and Avaya, has been critical of Verizon’s efforts to move away from being the company that provides a reliable telephone dial tone service in favor of a wireless services provider.

We believe that Verizon needs to be forced by the Legislature to live up to its obligation as the last provider of dial tone service, to spend what is necessary to provide alternatives for senior citizens who do not want to migrate to Fiber or provide a reliable back-up power source that will keep dial tone working in power failures.

(For more of Bill Huber's viewpoint, read his guest column here.)

(In the Lobby welcomes guest columns on issues of interest facing New Jersey.)

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  Guest Column: LIVING ON THE EDGE


We’ve all become cliff dwellers, clinging to the rocky face while, above us,
President Obama and Congressional Republicans are locked in an embrace
heading toward the precipice which will plunge them --- and us ---
into……….just what exactly?

Well, depends whose prediction you’re willing to accept.

There are those who are convinced the fiscal cliff issue is a manufactured
crisis, constructed by liberals and aided by a compliant media to scare the
bejesus out of Americans and convince them that their only salvation lies in
increasing taxes on the most wealthy among us.  It’s at most a fiscal speed
bump, not a cliff, they say.

On the other side is the body of opinion which holds that, unless a deal is
struck, taxes will go up automatically on Jan. 1, taking more money out of
the pockets of all Americans --- money which consumers would normally spend
on goods and services and continue to help the nation’s economic recovery.  
The higher taxes, combined with some $500 billion in automatic across the board cuts
in government spending will produce a severe recession from which it could years to
recover, they say.

President Obama doesn’t want what Congressional Republicans want and they
don’t want what he wants, turning the entire situation into a public
relations war rather than a sober, good faith effort to negotiate a

Both sides have decided that the struggle for hearts and minds can best be
carried out on Sunday morning television talk shows, repeating the same
stale, hackneyed talking points which, in truth, only reinforce the public
perception of governmental insincerity and ineptitude, a theater of the
absurd acted out by individuals who don’t give a damn about the effect on the audience.
(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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After years of relying on gentle persuasion and half-hearted incentives to convince municipal governments to reduce expenses by joining with neighboring communities to deliver services to their constituents, the
Legislature appears poised to order shared service agreements and punish those who refuse to comply by withholding a portion of their state aid allotment.

It’s reminiscent of the old story about the farmer whose mule refused to pull the wagon.  After cajolery and promises failed, the farmer delivered a thunderous blow between the animal’s eyes with a two-by-four.

“Will that make him move?” the farmer was asked.

“No,” he replied, “but I’ve got to get his attention first.”

In this case, the attention getter is contained in legislation approved this week 25-9 by the State Senate to deny state aid to municipalities who, after a study has determined costs can be reduced by sharing services, refuse to accept the agreement. 

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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In 1966, Dick Tuck, a political prankster, ran as a Democrat for the California State Senate. When he lost he gave what is probably the most sincere and heartfelt concession speech ever made in the history of political campaigns when he said, “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

A few weeks ago, on November 6, the people, in a divided nation also spoke. In doing so they returned to office Barak Obama, added to the Democratic majority in the Senate and, while not gaining control, picked up a couple of seats in the House of Representatives. A look at the electoral map indicates how deeply divided the nation really is. The results show pretty clearly that the liberal northeast states west to the Great Lakes states, the left coast states and Florida – all states with the greatest population density - dominate the Electoral College vote while most of the rest of the country appears to lean conservative.

Shortly after the election Mitt Romney stated that he attributed his defeat in part to what he called big policy “gifts” that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies, including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.

That tactic was discussed in a recent column I wrote about how the liberal/progressives use and abuse select segments of the population to promote victim status and make promises on which they seldom deliver.

Several leading Republicans including Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker among others immediately attacked Romney’s observations and condemned those in the GOP who classify voters based on income, race or age. Jindal said, "We have got to stop dividing the American voters." 

It is not the Republicans who are dividing the American voters, Governor Jindal.  The views of Jindal, Rubio and Walker demonstrate a political naivety that strongly suggests they, and those Republicans who think like them, are not ready to take on the Democrats for national leadership.

The Republican challenge is to educate the electorate in all demographic groups that the best way to achieve the American Dream is under a government that respects individual liberty and promotes an economy that encourages opportunity and that rewards effort and initiative. It will be a tough sell to a population that for over half a century has been seduced by the promises of big government.

(For more of Jim Morford's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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In every political campaign, there comes a time when the realization sets in that the prospect of defeat is no longer an abstract notion, but a distinct possibility.

For President Obama’s campaign, that moment has arrived.  His comfortable lead in voter demographics as well as issues has evaporated.  The gender gap once lopsidedly in his favor is no longer unbridgeable.

Even more troubling for the President are numerous poll results showing that voters, by a slim margin, now feel Mitt Romney is better equipped than he is to deal with the nation’s economic distress.  Confidence in the President has fallen from clear leads to margin of error levels.        

Ever since the beat down he suffered at Romney’s hands in the presidential debate in Denver, the President has been trying to wrest the momentum back from his challenger.

While he came off the consensus winner in the two subsequent debates, he benefitted not at all.  The die was cast in the Denver confrontation, now widely credited as the start of the Romney resurgence.     

The President’s campaign is teetering on the ragged edge of panic and, like others who found themselves in the same situation, he’s latched onto ideas and gimmicks that would normally be dismissed by cooler, more reasonable heads.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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Unlike the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, there was no clear cut winner in Thursday’s vice-presidential exchange. Polls and pundits are reaching varying conclusions, and each candidate scored enough points to convince his supporters that he came out on top.

From my perspective, I have to give the edge to Democrats, and here is why:

Much has been made of Vice President Joe Biden’s demeanor during the debate. He often was seen smiling, laughing and smirking while his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was speaking. And Biden frequently interrupted the congressman to rebut and challenge his statements.

In fact, it is the vice president’s behavior that is dominating much of the conversation in the aftermath of the debate – not any of the substantive arguments either candidate made.

During the 90-minute exchange, Congressman Ryan repeatedly reminded viewers that the economy is suffering, that he feels the Obama Administration mishandled the Libyan embassy incident and many of the promises the president made during the 2008 campaign have not come to fruition.

If I were part of the president’s re-election team, I’d be ecstatic that people are talking about Joe Biden’s facial expressions instead of the economy, Libya and broken promises.

(For more of Rich Lee's analysis, read his guest column here.) 

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n 1960, telephones were tethered to cords and only were used for conversation. The news came to us just a few times a day -- when the paper landed on our doorstep and when networks aired their news broadcasts. And when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon took part in the nation's first live televised presidential debate, they stood before cameras and answered questions.

Today we get our news 24/7 on phones and computers. Smartphones allow us to text and to email, to surf the web and to capture and share pictures and videos. Advances in technology have radically changed the way news and information is gathered and disseminated, but as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama campaign this fall, the format we employ for presidential debates is essentially the same as what it was more than 50 years ago.

Granted the format has been tweaked over the years. Some debates, including the upcoming Oct. 16 exchange at Hofstra University, are in town hall settings that allow audience members to ask questions. CNN and YouTube took things a step further during the 2008 presidential primaries by allowing members of the public to pose questions by uploading videos.

But attempts to alter the way we conduct debates have done little to change the basic format of the exchanges. Although we are using new technology and new approaches, we're using them to do the same old thing. To keep political debates relevant, we need to change our debate process to reflect how we communicate and share ideas in today's world.

I'd like to see us take a cue from Larry Sabato's 2007 book A More Perfect Constitution which explored ways we would set up our government and political systems if we were starting from scratch. He asks questions such as, “What if presidents were elected to one-time, six-year terms?”

(For more of Rich Lee's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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Liberal/Progressives are governed by feelings and intentions while conservatives tend to be more grounded in facts and reality.

Give a man a fish and liberal/progressives (referred to hereafter as Liberal/Progressives) compliment themselves as compassionate for they have fed a needy person. When the man returns the next day looking for another fish, the Liberal/Progressives are only too pleased to hand out more, especially if they did not have to buy the fish. When he returns again and again the Liberal/Progressives are ecstatic for now they have won. They have created another who is dependent on them and the governing structure they represent. The Liberal/Progressives thrive on that dependency. They have done this time and time again. It is their MO (method of operation) for every group they to seduce. The Liberal/Progressives reliable vehicle to bait the dependency trap is generally the Democratic Party with a sprinkling of “moderate” Republicans thrown in just to make it bipartisan.  

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to offer a hand rather than simply a handout. They will give the needy man a fish, but at the same will teach him how to fish. For it is the conservatives’ view that by becoming self reliant a person need not depend on government. The Liberal/Progressives however, cultivate dependency.

That is the basic difference in philosophy between the Liberal/Progressives and conservatives. The Liberal/Progressives must create ever larger numbers of dependents -- dependent groups that will serve their basic motivation which is to gain and maintain power over the lives of others.

Today’s  Democratic party is dominated and controlled by the Liberal/Progressives who believe that their power will be maintained and increased by growing an ever bigger government that exercises more and more intrusive control over virtually every aspect of the lives of its citizens.

(For more of Jim Morford's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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In another two months, the Christie Administration will begin in earnest crafting the fiscal year 2014 state budget.  The numbers crunchers and bean counters in the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget will huddle in their cubicles, crunching and counting, while Cabinet officers will busy themselves compiling their wish lists -- most of which will go unfilled -- to submit to the Governor’s office.

This year, the task of constructing a spending program in excess of $30 billion will be played out against a background of a depressed economy, slower than anticipated and hoped for growth, and an unemployment rate just short of 10 percent.

It is also Gov. Christie’s first election year budget, guaranteeing that immediately upon its delivery to the Legislature in early February, politics rather than fiscal policy will dominate the debate.

Tax revenue has fallen short of Administration projections, although the amount is a matter of dispute, raising the prospect that spending cuts will be required in the current budget to maintain an adequate surplus heading into next year.

The Democratically-controlled Legislature scuttled Christie’s proposal for a 10 per cent cut in income tax rates, pledging to move ahead with a tax reduction program only if the Administration’s revenue estimates were reached by the end of the year -- an unlikely outcome.

The Governor has pretty much conceded that the rate of growth he initially projected -- the most optimistic in the nation -- won’t be achieved but has steadfastly maintained a tax cut remains affordable and a reduction is vital for the state’s economic competitiveness.

Christie upped the ante last week when he promised to veto any spending bills the Legislature sends him, no matter the program involved, until a tax cut is approved.  He lit into Democrats, characterizing them as hypocrites and accused the media of complicity for publishing or broadcasting Democrats’ criticisms and raising doubts about the state’s ability to absorb the revenue loss a tax cut would reduce.

The news media likes nothing more than an ongoing public partisan political brawl and the Governor’s attack on it certainly won’t change or mute any of the coverage.  If anything, media attention will rise to new levels if the Governor issues a flurry of vetoes and Democrats mount override efforts to not only step up their criticisms but attempt to place Republican legislators in a politically embarrassing position of publicly voting to sustain the vetoes.  

Christie’s latest salvo came only a few days after he vetoed bipartisan legislation to require his Administration to produce monthly revenue reports, even though the legislation merely codified an executive order he signed last year.  In his veto, he also recommended a $10,000 fine be imposed on anyone who disclosed information about the state’s revenue condition, knowing the Legislature would never accept it.

There is every reason to believe he’ll renew his call for a tax cut in his budget message in February, implicitly warning the Democratic majority that failure to act will be a central theme in the gubernatorial and legislative election campaigns.

 (For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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Sept. 20, 2012


If you've ever gotten caught up in watching one of those 1940s spy movies on cable television, you're familiar with the scene in which the two agents meet in a seedy hotel room in the dark of  night to exchange secrets and, when one of them starts to talk, the other warns: "Sssh, even the walls have ears?"

In today's political campaign environment, not only do the walls have ears, but they possess video ready cell phones or miniature tape recorders poised to capture a candidate who, thinking he's mingling with a friendly crowd, unburdens himself with off the cuff insights into sensitive or emotionally-charged issues.

Mitt Romney's observation offered this week to an audience of donors that 47 per cent of Americans don't pay Federal income taxes and believe the government owes them food, clothing and shelter is but the latest example of unguarded rhetoric that erupts into a major campaign headache.

In 2008, then candidate Sen. Obama expressed his view --  again to a group of contributors -- that people angry with government seek refuge in guns, religion and anti-immigrant beliefs, suggesting that they are intellectually incapable of dealing with complex issues.

Obama survived that blow-up and it's likely Romney will be able to douse the fire he ignited with his comments and move on to safer ground by reminding Americans that, by nearly all measures, the economy remains dismal, the country's future is equally dismal, it's all the President's fault, and he's just the guy who can fix it.

Just as it did to Obama four years ago, though, Romney's campaign was knocked off stride and off message, forced to spend a precious few dwindling days dealing with another distraction and fending off the President's campaign allegations that Romney, with his privileged background and life experience, proved yet again he's out of touch with the realities of life for many Americans.   

 The episode, however, should serve as additional evidence that there is no longer any place to hide, that there is no refuge or escape from high technology intrusion into what once was considered safe territory where a candidate could relax and where stream of consciousness thinking didn't get beyond the walls.

 It should remind candidates and campaign staffs alike that there is someone -- or more than one someone -- in the room who understands that there is profit to be had in capturing potentially embarrassing video or audio of a candidate and peddling the material to the highest bidder.

(For more of Carl Golden's analysis, read his guest column here.)

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